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More doubt cast on official UFC rankings with revelation voting panel receives ‘suggestions’

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Are the notes sent to the official UFC rankings voters influencing those rankings?

MMA: UFC Fight Night Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Shane Burgos was on the wrong end of a unanimous decision on Saturday’s UFC fight card. Burgos, who entered his matchup against Josh Emmett as the No. 10 in the official UFC featherweight rankings, plummeted to No. 15 after his loss even though the fight will probably be in the running for the fight of the year for 2020. Emmett, who won the scrap on a severely injured leg, stayed in the No. 8 spot in the rankings.

So, why did Burgos nosedive in the rankings following his defeat, while other ranked fighters slid — at most — a single spot?

The answer to that question might be found in a document that Eric Kowal from MyMMANews.com tweeted on Tuesday morning. The file, with the heading “UFC on ESPN 11 Rankings Brief” notes the following “Downside” under Shane Burgos’ name.

High — Although it may seem harsh, with a loss here, Burgos could be removed from the featherweight rankings. He would be just 3-2 in his last 5 with his best win coming against Cub Swanson. In that time, current #16 Bryce Mitchell is 4-0 with his best win being over Charles Rosa, who at this stage of his career is not a huge step down from Swanson. Given that fact, Mitchell’s better recent record would give him a better claim to the ranking spot. It’s also worth noting that #11-15 also have impressive recent records with each having a winning streak of at least 4 (with the exception of Jose Aldo whose resume speaks for itself)

That Burgos dropped four spots could be a coincidence, but it could also mean the voting members took the suggestion the notes offered at face value and slotted Burgos into that spot.

For the sake of comparison, Alexander Volkov dropped one spot after his loss to Curtis Blaydes. Roxanne Modafferi also fell a single position after she lost to Lauren Murphy. Meanwhile, Marion Reneau didn’t move at all, even though she dropped a decision to Raquel Pennington.

As for Emmett. He was frustrated after the fight.

“The people the UFC wants to build up, all the people they push, I see it,” Emmett told ESPN. “I feel like they keep giving me people (ranked) behind (me). They don’t want me to go towards the top or they just want me to keep fighting people behind me. But in the end, I juts have to go out, win fights, beat people up and they can’t stop it.”

The “Rankings Brief” seems to support Emmett’s thinking as the “Upside” listed for him is minimal.

Low- With a win Emmett should move up just one spot, ahead of Frankie Edgar. Edgar is 1-3 in his last 4 and Emmett would be 3-1...

Emmett did not move up at all. He remains at No. 8 in the featherweight rankings despite two knockout wins and two fight-night bonuses in his past three fights. Edgar has not won since he defeated Cub Swanson in 2018.

Bloody Elbow contacted Kirik Jenness, who writes the “Rankings Briefs.”

Jenness said the briefs are intended to put the results of the fight in perspective and to prevent something like recency bias from clouding the voting process. He also said, “Members of the voting panel are of course free to ignore the briefs, and at some points all do.”

Jenness also stressed that the UFC has never reached out to him about the briefs or the rankings themselves.

“I should add unambiguously that the UFC has never reached out about the rankings, either before or after - there is no oversight or editorial input whatsoever, ever,” said Jenness. “I’ve watched (UFC president) Dana (White) in an interview kind of raise his eyebrows when asked about a ranking, but neither he, nor anyone from the organization has every reached out about a ranking or lack of ranking, in any fashion.”

Jenness comes across extremely sincere in his intention for the “Rankings Briefs.”

Bloody Elbow spoke to several members of the voting panel to try to get a better understanding of the voting process and how long they have been receiving these “Rankings Briefs.” The individuals we spoke to elected to remain anonymous.

“I was told ... they would email me them (the briefings) and that I could use them or not. There’s a third-party company that makes them,” one voter said.

Another voter said they have been getting the “Rankings Brief” documents for “a long time,” while another source said the documents started to arrive about two years after the rankings first began, which occurred in February 2013.

This voter echoed Jenness, “They really do frame it as a suggestion. I think it was to help curb the truly atrocious scorecards. They never asked to change anything, or pushed it on me. And I didn’t need context, so I just ignored it. My bigger issue with it was that the information was functionally useless. Suggesting that a loss could drop the 9th ranked fighter to 12 or below isn’t in itself a problem. But that’s based on the aggregate. So if I had that guy at 6, or 14, how is that even useful?”

Kowal also followed up on his initial tweet and stressed that his issue was with the rankings process and not the UFC itself.

The revelation that media members who have been part of the rankings voting group have been receiving these notes raised eyebrows on Tuesday with Kowal’s tweet. There have been questions for years from fighters, fans and media members regarding the rankings. With the knowledge that some voting members might look at the notes as suggestions on how to rank fighters — or worse — more doubt might be cast on just how uninfluenced these rankings are.

Bloody Elbow reached out to the UFC, Burgos’ management team and the company who sends the “Rankings Brief” emails to the voters. No one responded before publication time.